How to Inspect a Roof – DIY Roof Inspection

Replacing a roof is a costly expense. Because a roof is so expensive I have included a DIY roof inspection checklist. Also a few pros and cons for roofing materials, and inspection tips for those roofing materials.

When buying a new house or inspecting your home, being able to spot problems before a roof leak prevents costly problems.

When it’s obvious the roof needs replaced or repaired get several quotes before choosing a contractor. Prices vary by several thousand dollars. Make sure your contractor is licensed and insured.

Roof Inspection Checklist

  • Holes in the roof. This one is pretty obvious. A big hole in the roof is a problem. Replacing the roof is expensive but also labor and materials will be increased with holes. I think that problem and the increased expense is pretty obvious but if I don’t mention it there will be someone who won’t budget for the increased expense here.
  • Overhanging trees. There are several issues overhanging tree branches can cause including:
    • Dropping debris on the roof clogging up gutters and causing water damage.
    • Lots of leaves on the roof will hold in moisture and can cause moss or algae to grow.
    • Moss and algae love the shade. Too much shade can encourage growth.
    • Branches scraping across the roof can cause damage.
    • Broken or dead limbs can fall causing damage to the roof or gutters.
    • Branches touching or leaning against the house are a way for little critters to get into the house.
    • The worst damage is caused if the tree itself falls on the house.
  • Check the attic. Wetness in the attic or daylight shining through is a problem. Both can indicate a hole or leak.
  • Water damage. Look for water damage on the ceilings anywhere in the house. If you see discoloration make sure to investigate where it came from.
  • Look at the flashing around vents or skylights. Flashing pulling away from a vent or skylight may need fixed and caulked to reseal. Rusting and deteriorating flashing is a sign it should be replaced.
  • Debris on the roof. If the roof is covered with branches and lots of leaves this can cause water to back up and damage the roof. Falling branches can damage a roof can cause leaks.
  • Check the gutters. Gutters are great for directing water away from a house. Gutters can back up and cause roof leaks if not properly maintained. Check to see if there is water sitting in the gutters. Water pooling in the gutters can be caused by improper installation. The gutters should be slanted so water drains toward the downspout. If gutters are full of leaves and backed up it can cause water to back up and damage the roof or house.
  • Look for moss. Moss growing on a roof can keep the roof moist and pull up roofing materials. This can damage a roof causing leaks. Moss likes shade and wet environments. If the moss has not caused damage it needs to be removed. Zinc strips can be installed after cleaning to prevent future problems.
  • Adequate ventilation. Make sure there are vents in the roof. The best places for vents are near the peak of the roof. Look for soffit vents and check in the attic to make sure they are not covered with insulation. Attics that aren’t vented can have a variety of issues including:
    • Moisture problems that encourage mold growth and wood to rot.
    • Heat up like a sauna in the summer heating the entire house.
    • Damage roofing materials by exposing them to high temperatures from inside the house and outside.
    • Ice dams can form in the winter damaging the roof.
  • Check for popped nails. Over time nails can start to work their way up. This can cause damage or allow roofing material to loosen and leak.
  • Fascia and Soffit.
    • Look at the facia and soffit make sure they are intact and no exposed wood. Exposed wood will start to rot and need to be replaced.
    • Cracks. Make sure there are no cracks anywhere letting water or critters in.
    • Critters. Look for signs of any type of critters getting in under the fascia or soffit. Squirrels, birds, chipmunks, bats, and mice are a few of the pests that can get into surprisingly small cracks and start causing damage. This typically happens from a crack in the soffit but any cracks and gaps or good to seal up. Look for gaps and any evidence of nests or poo that they may leave behind.
    • No ventilation. If the attic is roasting hot in the summer check to make sure there is soffit ventilation and that it isn’t blocked. If soffit ventilation is good make sure there are vents near the peak and that they are working properly.
    • Peeling paint. Make sure the paint on the facia isn’t peeling.
    • Rotted Fascia board. This one is pretty easy to see. If the facia boards are rotting and falling apart budget to replace them.

A few things to assess when looking at a roof are the materials used and the condition of the roof. I’ll go over a few of the common materials. This is not an extensive list of all materials but I have included some of the more common materials.

Inspecting an Asphalt Roof

Life Span. 30-year shingles should last 30 years, right?

Sadly no. The lifespan of an asphalt roof depends on location and care. Properly cared for by removing debris, making sure gutters are clean and installed properly they will typically last around 25 years. An uncared-for roof may only last 20 years. In areas, with extreme heat and the sun beating down on it the life span can be even worse to around 15 years. If improperly installed an asphalt roof may fail in 10 or fewer years.

Are 50-year asphalt shingles worth it? When flipping a house they are not. 50-year shingles typically won’t increase the value of the house and not worth the higher price tag. The shingles won’t last 50 years but you may get closer to 30 or over with them. For a personal home and the right price, it may be worth the cost but for flipping houses, the cost doesn’t outweigh the gains.

Pros of Asphalt Roof:

  • Affordability is a major factor. This is one of the cheaper options when replacing a roof.
  • Depending on the condition of the roof it might be possible to put an additional layer of shingles over the previous ones. Adding a new layer of shingles costs less than tearing off old shingles and saves time.
  • Low maintenance. Remove any debris or moss from the roof. Check for missing shingles, replace missing or damaged shingles.
  • Insulation is simple and fairly quick. Depending on the size of the roof and if the lower layer is being removed an asphalt roof can be completed in as little as 2-3 days. For larger roofs and removing old layers, it may take a week or two.
  • The shingles can come in a variety of colors to go with your exterior design.

Cons of Asphalt Roof:

  • Don’t perform well in extreme heat. Excess sunlight and moisture can cause the shingles to break down quicker.
  • High winds can lift shingles and even take some right off the roof.
  • Bad weather can damage granules and cause damage.
  • Hail can cause damage and cracking of shingles.
  • Nearby trees dropping debris on the roof can cause shingles to be damaged.
  • Shouldn’t be installed in cold temperatures. This can cause damage to the shingles while being installed.
  • Asphalt shingles don’t last that long compared to other roofing.
  • If you’re an environmentally conscious person be aware asphalt shingles aren’t as environmentally friendly as other options.

Inspecting for Damage to Asphalt Roof:

  • Discoloration of shingles. This can be from old shingles or simply from algae. If the shingles are only a few years old and appear to be in good shape, cleaning the roof may be a cheaper option. Hiring someone to clean the roof is pretty cheap. If you’re feeling brave and want to attempt it yourself here is a website that gives instructions on how to remove and prevent algae stains on asphalt shingle roofs. Zinc strips can also be installed after cleaning to prevent future problems.
  • Missing shingles. Look around at the properties nearby. Are there trees or buildings to help block the wind? Spots with missing shingles need to be replaced. With enough missing it may be best to replace the roof.
  • Cracked and curling shingles. Take a close look at the shingles if you see cracks or curling edges that’s a sign the shingles have reached or will soon reach the end of their lifespan.

Inspecting a Wood Roof

The life span of a wood roof. This varies greatly depending on product quality, maintenance, and insulation. A good quality, well-installed, and well-maintained wood roof can last from 30-40 years or even more. If the quality of roofing materials is poor, installed on cheap plywood sheathing (the wood that goes underneath your shingles), or installed properly a roof can fail in 10-20 years.

Pros of a wood roof:

  • Curb appeal. There are a variety of options when it comes to wood roofing. It may also be required for some historic properties.
  • Handles high winds. Wooden shakers can handle some pretty high winds.
  • They can take a hit. The impact resistance of a wood roof is great. Some wood roofing options have withstood 2-inch hail.
  • Installation is fairly simple.
  • They can be repaired. Missing or cracked shakers can be replaced
  • Wooden shingles will add a little insulation.
  • Lightweight
  • Grays with age and some find this a very appealing color.
  • Very eco friendly

Cons of a wood roof:

  • Not very fire resistant. Since it’s wood this is one of the worst options when it comes to fire resistance.
  • Bugs can invade a wooden roof and make it home.
  • Maintenance. Fire retardant or sealers are needed every few years. This also can help keep the insects away. Most people don’t like the extra maintenance of a wood roof.
  • If not maintained properly wood shakers can start to rot.

Inspection for Damage of Wood Roofs:

  • Missing wood shakers. Any bare spots are a concern.
  • Curling wood. Wooden roofs will curl some naturally but if it is bad enough you can see underlayment the roof may need some work.
  • Cupping wood. The sides of the wood shakers are curling upward forming a cup can be a sign that the attic isn’t ventilated properly. That can be another whole set of issues.
  • Discolored spots. The shakes will gray some with age but if there are dark spots it may be a sign of spots that aren’t drying out well and there could be damage there and also underneath the shakers. Mold could start growing in the damp spots and cause discolorations. Green spots could be moss starting to grow which can damage the roof.

Inspecting a Metal Roof

Life span. As with any of the other roofs, this depends on the quality of materials. A typical well-installed metal roof can last 40-70 years.

Pros of a metal roof:

  • Long-lasting. A metal roof can last 2-3 times longer (or more) than an asphalt roof.
  • Energy-efficient. A metal roof will reflect sunlight not absorb it. That will decrease the heating effect and keep your house cooler in the summer. Helping lower energy bills by up to 25%.
  • Variety of options. Metal roofs now come in a wide range of options including styles to look like clay, wood, or slate roofs.
  • Can handle wind. Depending on the quality of the metal roof some can handle wind gusts of up to 140mph.
  • Low maintenance.
  • Fire-resistant. Metal roofs are a great option for any house where forest fires could be a threat.
  • Less prone to leaks than asphalt shingles.
  • Environmentally friendly. Metal roofs can be 100% recycled after they have served their time as a roof.

Cons of a metal roof:

  • Expensive. A metal roof can cost 2-3x or more than an asphalt roof.
  • Can be dented. Softer metals like aluminum and copper can dent quicker than other options. Steel is less prone to dents.
  • They can be loud. Some like the sound of rain on a metal roof but just be aware it’s going to be louder than rain on a wood or asphalt roof.
  • Large sheets expand and contract. Installed incorrectly this can cause the large panels to loosen and cause leaks.
  • Snow can pile up and slide off. This creates a wonderful little avalanche and a pile of snow to get through.
  • Slippery to walk on. Getting on the roof for any reason can be a little tricky with the slick metal. Rain or snow will make it much worse.
  • Saltwater corrosion. Some metal roofs near saltwater have issues with corrosion.

There are other types of roofing like clay, slate, and several others. Clay and slate are long-lasting roofs but expensive to replace. To add a clay or slate roof the house needs extra structural support. I don’t live in an area where these are used and for now, all they get is a passive mention because for the price I would never use them.

When to Repair or Replace

Leaks don’t always mean the entire roof needs replaced. Check the gutters, fascia, and soffit first. Look for openings near flashing that can be secured and resealed. A few missing shingles can be replaced. Having someone come out to do a few repairs or do them yourself can save thousands.

Only a few years left or the roof looks old and isn’t functioning correctly anymore, replace it. Flipping a house, renting a house, or it’s your own personal home, save yourself the headache from all the water damage, and get a new roof.

DIY or Hire a Pro

This is not a simple easy project. Roofing requires permits to be pulled and if you mess up the damage can add up to thousands of dollars. For the vast majority of people, I say hire a pro.

If the roof is a steep pitch, isn’t easy to walk on, or is high enough you are likely to not survive a fall, hire a pro.

For the hardcore DIY fans who are willing to pull a permit, follow all the codes, and feel comfortable working on your roof, do yourself. It will save you thousands of dollars and it isn’t hard to learn how to roof a house.

Few Tools That Make Life Easier

Hammer stapler. When putting down underlayment (depending on what type you use) a hammer stapler makes quick easy work of the job.

Staple gun. If you need more precise staples get a staple gun. I prefer having both a staple gun and a hammer stapler.

Roofing air nailer. For asphalt shingle installation a roofing nailer will save you hours, or days. Don’t have the compressor for an air nailer there are a few brands that make battery-operated air nailers. The drawback with that is if you don’t already have extra batteries the air nailer will run out before you finish your job. I wouldn’t recommend them unless you have a large collection of backup batteries or are doing a very small job.


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